TRAVELERS & MAGICIANS On the road to a mythical America.
Travelers and Magicians
dir. Norbu
Opens Fri March 11
Cinema 21

This charming, philosophical film takes place in Bhutan, a remote Buddhist kingdom. Dondup (Tsewang Dandup) is a young man who's just been given an important position in his village. But consumed by pop cultural influences that filter down to him, he instead takes the opportunity to go to the U.S.

Filled with visions of a country teeming with "cool girls" and holding misconceptions of a society in which one can get rich working menial service jobs, Dondup's disdain for his native land makes him arrogant and unappreciative of his own culture. He doesn't get very far on his journey before a monk (Sonam Kinga) and several other ad hoc travel companions capture his interest--particularly the monk, who imparts a story of another young man's parallel adventure and subsequent folly.

A pleasant clash of modern attitude and traditional wisdom, Travelers and Magicians is a subtly engaging film with a quiet, simple message--leaving just enough give in its construction for the viewer to discover their own version of the point. MARJORIE SKINNER

Vodka Lemon
dir. Saleem
Opens Fri March 11
Hollywood Theatre

At the start of Vodka Lemon, Hamo (Romen Avinian), an Armenian man in his 60s, travels to the capital to collect a parcel from his son. Expecting hard foreign currency, widower Hamo is disappointed to discover only a letter.

For Hamo, like many others in his backwater village, a $10 per month expense account is barely sufficient (even for an Armenian backwater). Hamo's widowed neighbor Nina (Lala Sarkissian), for instance, is fucked when she's laid off from the roadside vodka stand where she earns a similar salary. With precious little else for unemployed citizens to do in the snowy Armenian Caucuses, Hamo and Nina visit their spouses daily and befriend one another on the bus ride there.

The film is primarily about loss, whether it be young sons traveling to the West for employment, a death of a spouse, or the meagerness of crucial government subsidies. Even so, the film never becomes melodramatic or preachy; skillfully understated and well photographed, Vodka Lemon adeptly conveys the frustration and desperation of post-Soviet rural life, while also asserting human resilience. Though the film doesn't end with newfound love, riches, or even an epiphany, its heroes (and its audience) are rewarded with something more satisfying--as Hamo and Nina are reminded that, much like the stark and snowy landscape surrounding them, their lives are at once staggeringly bleak and staggeringly beautiful. WILL GARDNER

Noir City
dirs. Various
Fri March 11-Sun April 3
Guild Theater, Whitsell Auditorium

Film noir creates shadow-filled underworlds where tough guys in trench coats and beautiful femme fatales try to figure out who they can trust, who they can love, and--perhaps most importantly--who they need to kill. This month, the Northwest Film Center presents Noir City, a mini-festival of crime classics. Check our "Film Shorts" pages for upcoming shows, but in the meantime, it wouldn't hurt to mark your calendar for these ageless hits.

Angel Face (March 11, 13) Frank (Robert Mitchum) scores a job as a chauffer at the Tremaynes' mansion--and just might score with their daughter, too. Of course, things are not quite as great as they seem, and the mansion quickly turns into a prison of paranoia.

The Naked Kiss (March 31) This sordid, mind-blowing melodrama is the masterpiece of the greatest American director you've never heard of, Samuel Fuller.

Born to Kill (April 3) Sam Wilde (Lawrence Tierney) kills his girlfriend and her lover, falls for the only witness, and then marries her rich sister. Damn! I guess that's why the tagline calls him "The coldest killer a woman ever loved." RYAN DIRKS